What’s Happening in Indie Financing?

Alex Epstein knows:

crowdfunding book Capture
Get a better look at this book at Amazon.Com

by Alex Epstein

I keep hearing that traditional funding for indie films is getting harder and harder.

I’m not sure it was ever that easy, unless you count the moment right after video stores came in and you could put together almost any cheesy erotic thriller or teenagers-in-a-cabin-in-the-woods horror movie and make a direct-to-video movie. If you read Joe Camp’s book about how he funded BENJI, the sleeper dog movie hit of 1974, he had a lot of trouble getting his movie made, and then more trouble getting it into theaters.

But word is that indie dramas are almost dead in North America; a distributor friend of mine told me not even to use the word when describing our current project. So, everybody’s talking about crowdfunding.

Raising money from individual strangers is not new. When I was at Arama Entertainment as VP of Development a ways back, we worked with these financiers from Texas who had raised a lot of money speculating on ostrich farming. They had a “boiler room” full of guys who’d call dentists and tell them how much money they could make investing in ostriches. At the time, ostrich meat was selling at a premium. The meat tastes more like steak than chicken, but it’s low fat. Ranchers were buying fertilized ostrich eggs for $300, while an actual ostrich was worth, say, a couple of thousand. Dentists are people who (a) have a biggish income and (b) really boring jobs. Our Texas friends were offering them an investment, but they were also offering them something to dream about other than problematic teeth.

Our Texas guys could see that the ostrich boom couldn’t last; eventually there would be as many ostriches in Texas as anyone would possibly want to eat. So they decided to get into show business. They raised $600,000 for us, from dentists who would invest $5000 — an amount they could afford to lose — and thereby buy the right to tell people at cocktail parties that they were in show business. Because who wants to hear about teeth?

The way the boiler room works is there’s a bunch of guys with long lists of presumably wealthy people, and they just call and call and call until they get someone on the hook. Think Glengarry Glen Ross. The boiler room takes a pretty hefty chunk of the money it raises, and passes the rest along to the filmmaker, who spend it to make a movie. The investors rarely get a profit, but, like buying a lottery ticket, they get to dream about being in the movies.

Crowdfunding takes that idea and puts it on the Internet, with some differences. Mostly, crowdfunding is not about your contributors hoping to make a profit. They are hoping to support the arts. And, they usually get some sort of “perk,” from a thank-you on someone’s Twitter feed, to an Executive Producer title on the film, to a t-shirt, to what have you. I give Vermont Public Radio $90, I get a nice mug. That sort of thing.

John Trigonis crowdfunded his short CERISE, and wrote a book about it called CROWDFUNDING FOR FILMMAKERS. It is a very in-depth book about how he did it, and how to do it right.

Unfortunately, and this is not at all the book’s fault, my takeaway is: crowdfunding is a lousy way to raise money for filmmaking. There seems to be a huge amount of effort involved for very little reward. He spent two months intensively farming his contacts in order to raise $5000. He recounts in considerable detail how other would-be filmmakers leveraged their Twitter feeds, Facebook networks, Google Plus, etc., to raise similar amounts. He talks about how he contributed to one filmmaker who, in exchange for your $33 contribution, would mail you a vinyl LP from his personal collection. Other filmmakers will send you a “personalized sound” or work your chosen word into a song.

And it’s not mostly strangers. It’s mostly your friends. Trigonis even posted requests for money on his friends’ Facebook walls.

If you’re actually in show business, I think this would be a terrible idea. If you ask your friends for money, they will ask you for money. Everybody has a project. If 20 friends give me fifty bucks each, and then I give 20 friends fifty bucks, we’re just moving the money around (and paying Indiegogo a rake). More importantly, I want friendship from my friends, not money. I’m happy to help my friends out — help them get jobs, connect them, give them advice, feed them, pour liquor into them — but if all they wanted was money from me, I think I’d feel dissed.

So crowdfunding involves (a) annoying the crap out of your friends (b) making it your full-time job (c) for really not all that much money.

I have seen slightly more respectable crowdfunding campaigns, but they’re still for small amounts of money. Jane Espenson raised $60,000 for her web series HUSBANDS. My agent contributed to a crowdfunding campaign from David Fincher.

But these are Famous People. I am sure that if Joss Whedon wanted to raise a hundred grand for another Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along, he could do it at the drop of a hat (and a few dozen hours of work for his assistant).

But Joss Whedon could also write a hundred thousand dollar check without blinking, considering what he must have been paid to direct THE AVENGERS and what he will almost certainly get paid if he is interested in directing any future Avengers movies. And Jane Espenson can raise $60,000 by writing a television script.

Also, Joss Whedon can make a really great web short for a hundred thousand dollars, because what cinematographer isn’t going to jump at the chance to do a favor for Joss Whedon?

I am always impressed by people who make a crowd-pleasing short for $5,000, or a film that is even releasable for $100,000. For people like that, crowdfunding is a possibility. I don’t think you can count on raising anywhere near a million bucks, if that’s what you need to make a professional quality movie.

Based on this book, I feel like for most people, crowdfunding is a financing source of last resort.

And that’s not surprising. You’re not asking people to invest in a film; there’s no financial upside. You’re asking for donations.

That said, this is a useful book, should you decide to go for it. It will give you a good sense of how much work, and what sort of work, you’ll need to do in order to get your money. If you’re not sure, it will let you know what you’re in for. I am going to send it to a couple of people I’m working with who have brought up crowdfunding, so at least we’re all on the same page about what it entails.

Fox Selects 10 Finalists for 2013 Writers Intensive

…And among them is an LB/ TVWriter™ fave, Sal Calleros, who has contributed quite a bit to this site in all its incarnations over the years. Congrats, Sal. Congrats, everyone!


by Michael O’Connell

Fox Audience Strategy has named the sophomore class of its Writers Intensive (FWI), the company’s talent-nurturing program that launched in late 2011 and named its first fellow last year. One individual from the company’s talent-cultivating program, which recently expanded to include film and book components, will see their script developed.

The 10 finalists, chosen for diverse voices, backgrounds and experiences, will get even more well-rounded tutelage this year with feature film, book (HarperCollins) and digital content all falling under the umbrella of FWI.

“I couldn’t be more impressed with the caliber of this year’s 10 FWI finalists — not only are they unbelievably talented, accomplished writers, but they all have really fresh, unique creative perspectives that we would like our entertainment businesses to tap into and grow,” said Fox Group audience strategy senior vp Nicole Bernard. “Reflecting a broad range of viewpoints — both in front of and behind the camera — remains a top priority for our company, and we’re fortunate to have so many of our writers and producers supporting us in these efforts.”

FWI received more than 400 nominations and submissions for this crop. The 10 finalists will spend the next 13 weeks working on scripts and attending sessions with talent such as Hart Hanson (Bones), Shintaro Shimosawa (The Following), Andre and Maria Jacquemetton (Mad Men) and Zal Batmanglij (Sound of My Voice).

This year’s FWI writers and their respective representatives include:

  • Angela Allen (The Cartel)
  • Yule Caise (Lichter, Grossman, Nichols, Adler & Feldman)
  • Sal Calleros (Rothman, Brecher, Kim / Magnet Management)
  • Carol Doyle (The Gersh Agency)
  • Sara Endsley (Rothman, Brecher, Kim / The Shuman Company)
  • Warren Hsu Leonard (ICM / Circle of Confusion)
  • Nick Ozeki (Independent)
  • Chitra Sampath (Ragna Nervik Management)
  • Theo Travers (ICM / Artists International)
  • Marisa Wegrzyn (Abrams Artists Agency / Myra Model Management)

FWI selected Thomas Wong as 2012 fellow last June. This year’s fellow will see their submitted scripted purchased and developed jointly by Fox Broadcasting Company, 20th Century Fox Television and FX

Additionally, one FWI finalist will be selected to apply to the Fox Writers Studio on a first-look basis and another will be chosen to pitch their script to HarperCollins.

Note to those who have asked us about this program in the past: You’ll notice that everyone chosen is already a pro, with respected representation. This isn’t a “contest” for newbies, kids. Sorry.

The Two Stages of a Hollywood Soul-Crushing

io9 strikes again!


by Daniel Wilson

I remember it clearly. I’m twenty-six years old, pacing around on the phone outside an Ethiopian restaurant in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I’m trying to figure out who the guy is on the other end of the line in a polite way, and also to determine exactly how he is trying to scam me. He says that he is my film agent and that Paramount has offered to buy the rights to my book How to Survive a Robot Uprising. A mid five-figure check is coming my way as soon as I say yes. That’s more money than I’ve ever laid hands on in my life. Also, I didn’t know I had a film agent.

It was one hell of a phone call.

That was how I was introduced to the world of film rights. It’s the “manna from heaven” model. And yes, I’m aware that nobody deserves that kind of luck, especially not some young punk who hasn’t paid any dues. Yet.

For the first year or two, I was completely convinced that Paramount was going to make my movie (they didn’t). When Mike Myers was cast as the star, I was pretty sure that we were going to meet, and if not become best friends, then at least be featured extras on each others’ Christmas card list (we didn’t and we aren’t). Instead, the entire process revealed itself as the slow soul-crushing exercise that it really is.

So here it is, my breakdown of the two simple stages of a Hollywood soul-crushing. I should note that this is completely subjective, and based solely on my own idiosyncratic experiences.

Stage One: The honeymoon period.

For “How to Survive a Robot Uprising,” this was the three years while Paramount chose to extend the option another 18 months, paid Tom Lennon and Ben Garant an obscene amount of money for a truly hilarious script, and flew me to Hollywood for a meeting with the studio head. Movie web sites started to write articles about casting decisions. Sometimes journalists called me up. People congratulated me as if the movie were already shot. And I started to like reading the articles. I began Googling my own book title. Eventually, I found my movie’s stock ticker on HSX and I’d watch it wiggle, fascinated.

It’s the daydreaming during Stage One that ruined me later.

I tried not to do it. But sometimes I’d think about my characters or jokes or themes brought to life on the big screen. Think of details about the script, and wonder if I’d be allowed to be eviscerated by a robot in the background of my own movie. I’d imagine buying plane tickets to visit the set. What would it be like to watch the orchestra that scores my movie? Will the actors be nice? What about the director? Will there really be a little canvas Director chair? How many books will it help sell? Will there be toys? A video game? And how big will the movie budget be? Because the bonus that arrives at the start of principal photography is tied directly to those numbers.

I didn’t let myself think about this stuff at first, but it builds. After a couple of years, I had a whole interior fantasy world going. I knew it wasn’t healthy, but what could I do? I write for a living, and not fantasizing is like not flexing my biggest (and, well, only) muscle.

But every honeymoon ends.

Stage Two: What happens after the other phone call.

So maybe now is a good time to talk about how it feels when you get the other call. The one where the studio has decided to relinquish those rights back. I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but for me it starts with my scalp kind of going cold. My agent or whoever is on the phone, trying to put a positive spin on it. Or else I’m just reading about it from Deadline Hollywood or The Hollywood Reporter. But either way, my lips and face are going kind of numb as a hundred intricately woven fantasies suddenly unravel. My brain just chokes on the information. I don’t know how else to describe the disappointment. I replay this new information and then my mind rejects it.

Then my stomach gets all hurty and I usually go lay in bed for awhile to process the fact that I’m not going to ride wave runners with Mike Myers.

Not that I’m asking for sympathy. That’s another cruel twist of the knife. Because having film rights to your book optioned is such an awesome thing in and of itself that there is no sympathy. And you’d have to be really short-sighted to try and demand any in the first place. No, this is an intensely personal disappointment. The fantasies that are dying are the ones you haven’t shared out loud with anybody else. When these dreams die, their corpses litter your mind and your brain has to shove them out of the way every time you want to do anything for the next few weeks.

Eventually, though, you sort of get used to it.

I have now lost film options on How to Survive a Robot Uprising, How to Build a Robot Army, Bro-Jitsu: The Martial Art of Sibling Smackdown, and on my latest novel Amped (now available in paperback!). Every single time, it’s a kick in the balls. After a while, I started to assume that a movie would never happen. Take the money, smile at the studio head, and read a breathless entertainment article once in a while. Enjoy the honeymoon, expect nothing.

And then Spielberg calls.

The honeymoon period for Robopocalypsehas been intense and it has lasted for over three years now. Despite every effort not to, I have developed an incredible inner world that pictures my life with this movie in it: books, toys, video games and all things Robopocalypse proliferating into the pop culture of the world. Every new piece of A-level casting news, every scrap of insanely awesome pre-viz, and every meeting with the creative geniuses at Amblin has contributed to this interior build-up. But there has always been a quiet voice in the back of my head, pleading for me to not get too attached.

When Robopocalypse was delayed last month, I got the news just before my wife and I were supposed to go out to dinner with friends. I went anyway, but needless to say, I got very drunk. Trying to explain it to everyone, I immediately ran into the sympathy wall. That led to more drinking. The night didn’t end well. There were several “is he okay?” emails the next day. Ah, thank god for friends.

As of right now, the Robopocalypse movie is delayed six to eight months. It may shoot later this year and it may not. The probability doesn’t matter. The fantasy world can survive and thrive in the narrowest sliver of likelihood. I try to mentally stamp out these fantasies, but it’s hard to do. Maybe impossible.

Ultimately, it’s a champagne problem. I know I don’t deserve my own movie. Who does? But cross your fingers for me anyway, alright? And buy a book or two, (Amped, preferably) so that we tortured writers can keep fueling our fantasies – with or without Hollywood.

Leesa Dean: Adventures in Web Series Creation – The Mistake


by Leesa Dean

So, I created, wrote and animated Chilltown (and Lele’s Ratchet Advice Show.) They’re both cartoons for adults (you know, like South Park.)  They’re both pretty wild. Already described how/why I came up with Chilltown. Recently decided to start keeping an online blog describing the ups and downs of releasing a web series, guerilla style.

What this WON’T be, is a blow-by-blow of what it takes to actually promote one. Mainly cause I’m still sorta stumbling through that. What it will be, is stories/vignettes from the front lines. And my life. Every week.

So pull up. Relax. Grab a drink. You’re gonna need one.


Yep, it’s been written about but until you experience it, you really don’t get it. When you’re creating something, the only thing that keeps you going (especially if you’re not getting paid) is the notion that people will just swarm to your show. After busting my ass for 5 years creating Chilltown (etc.), I really hoped that I would click the “public” button on YouTube, go to sleep that night, wake up with a million views.

Doesn’t work that way. You cannot just pop something up on YouTube and expect it to become viral. In fact, most of the time, you can’t expect it to get views. Did I know this? Kinda. Did I think it applied to me? HELLZ no. And I’m not even a “rules don’t apply to me” person.  It just literally never crossed my mind. Was way too busy in production to think about it.

So that was my first mistake. And it made me realize there was only one thing I knew for sure: there will be others.

99U.Com is Hiring Freelance Writers for New Blog


The editorial team behind productivity blog 99U.Com is starting another blog, called Workbook.Com and is looking for freelance writers to staff it.

Sounds like a good gig…which means they might actually pay. Have some salient facts:

99U is a Webby-award winning publication with over a million monthly readers. We also produce the yearly sold-out 99U conference. The mission of 99U is to share pragmatic insights on how to push bold ideas forward — and in many ways, “demystify the creative process.”

Launching in March, Workbook will be the latest editorial project from the 99U team to help provide bite-sized insights, links, and other information to empower creatives. Blog posts will run 50-200 words, contain a visual element (image, info graphic, text treatment, or video), and will be the lighter counterpart to 99U’s features.

Workbook will capture the conversation around creativity and productivity and share those insights with readers. Sometimes that will mean pulling out a quote or relevant insight from a book you’re reading. Other times, it’s sharing an amazing lecture you found on YouTube. We’re most interested in writers than can dig up that obscure insight and push it front and center for our readers

If that appeals to you, then you should know how you can appeal to them:

You crank through several books monthly and your RSS feed reader is loaded. You’re familiar with Behance and 99U and share our mission of empowering the creative world with insights to help make ideas happen. You enjoy thinking and writing about the creative process: whether it’s through art, entrepreneurship, or otherwise. You have your own blog or you’ve written for other publications, know your way around WordPress, and aren’t scared of a little HTML. Bonus points if you are involved in your area’s entrepreneurial or creative communities.

Still with ’em? In that case:

Send 99U Associate Editor Sean Blanda a paragraph or two about why you’d like to write for Workbook. Include at least three links to writing you’re proud of that best matches the style of 99U. Please, don’t send your resume.

If we like your stuff, we’ll do a 2-week trial where you’ll pitch us ideas and we’ll (quickly) give you the thumbs up or thumbs down. After the trial, we’ll work with you to establish a weekly post schedule that make sense for both of us and (eventually) give you a bit more free range to post without checking in with us. Writers will be compensated for all published posts.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Read the full post

If you go through the process, let us know how it went down…us freelance desperados gotta stick together, you know?